Heartless Bastards: Songwriter Erika Wennerstorm Aims for "Clint Eastwood-Meets-Nancy Sinatra" Sounds

Nathan Presley
Heartless Bastards
Timberlake-style audacity aside, it takes some serious stones to open an album with a six-minute-plus slow-burning anthem. But that's what Erika Wennerstrom does with "Marathon," the opening track of her Texas-via-Ohio band Heartless Bastards' 2012 opus, Arrow.

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The move pays off. "Marathon" is a classic empowerment anthem -- not cheesy or overly sentimental, but powerful. It hits like a fist to the gut.

"It was planned from the beginning," Wennerstrom says of the decision to open with the number. "'Marathon' was meant to be on our last album, The Mountain, and we ran out of time. But I really believed in the song, and I wanted to use it for this next album."

Her connection to the strong was strong, and the Heartless Bastards -- which featured session players when The Mountain was recorded -- was in the midst of an evolution into a full-fledged rock 'n' roll group of Wennerstorm, bassist Jesse Ebaugh, drummer Dave Colvin, and guitarist Mark Nathan. Producer Jim Eno (Spoon, Black Joe Lewis, Alejandro Escovedo) suggested the fledgling unit take the songs that would eventually comprise Arrow on the road, allowing the compositions to take root and evolve naturally. The approach benefited the record, like the T.Rex-style strut of "Got Have Rock and Roll," the loose-limbed "Skin and Bone," the cocky Stones-evoking "Late in the Night," and its restrained black-coffee-and-cigarettes moments, like the spooky "The Arrow Killed the Beast." It especially brought clarity to "Marathon."

"I felt like a song like 'Marathon' could have been overlooked in the middle of the album or toward the end," she says. "Because it's common for you put all the rock 'n' roll songs and everything that's super-catchy up front, [and] I don't like front-loaded albums. It's kind of a mellow song, but it really builds. It was a powerful way to open the album, and I thought people wouldn't notice it in the middle of the album. From the beginning, I knew it had to be first."

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